Hockey

Pronger stomp part of NHL culture: Stewart

Chris Pronger's infamous stomp reflects a cultural shift in the NHL, according to former pro player and referee Paul Stewart.

Chris Pronger's infamous stomp reflects a cultural shift in the NHL, according to former pro player and referee Paul Stewart.

Pronger, 33, was suspended Saturday for eight games for stomping on the leg of Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler in a 4-1 Anaheim Ducks win on March 12.

Stewart, the director of officials for the NCAA's Eastern Conference, told Hockey Night In Canada Radio on Sirius late Monday that the incident is a direct result of the NHL's desire to reduce fighting and, in turn, eliminate the role of the enforcer.

"It is sort of childish the way that he stomped on the guy," Stewart said. "Would [Jean] Beliveau have done that?

"I don't think so because they had No. 22 playing for them — God rest his soul, John Ferguson — and players knew they weren't going to take allowances with them."

Stewart believes the enforcer plays a key role in the NHL because "if you run [Sidney] Crosby or if you run [Alexander] Ovechkin or if you run, sadly, a Patrice Bergeron, you have to face a guy.

"[Wayne] Gretzky had [Marty] McSorley and he had [Dave] Semenko. Nowadays, they're trying to outlaw these guys."

Fewer enforcers means superstars like Pronger have taken it upon themselves to retaliate rather than leave it to a designated pugilist.

Without enforcers to fight battles for them, players strike back with vicious stickwork or, in Pronger's case, a skate blade.

"Some of these mini tough guys, or pseudo-tough guys, are guys that have not really been hit hard enough," Stewart said. "Yet once they get away from hiding behind the rules, and hiding the linesmen, you find their laundry is a little more soiled than they let on."

'Part of the culture'

Calling it a "part of the culture now," Stewart feels players have become so pampered that they lack respect for one another.

"What Pronger did is inexcusable," he said. "And yet it is part of the culture now where the players today are spoiled, where they say to themselves that no one should hit me.

"It wasn't bad enough that he had to turn and do what he did. You expect better from him … but then again, the culture of today's athletes is they're expected to be treated specially and, when they're bumped or hit a little bit more rudely, they take it into their own hands."

Asked when he noticed the shift away from on-ice enforcers, Stewart responded: "The culture changed when the helmets went on, when the glass went up, when the goaltenders went out back of the net and started playing the puck with an expectation of not being confronted."

"What we need to do is decide is 'Do we need fighting in hockey or do we not need fighting in hockey?'" Stewart said. "And if we don't have fighting, how are we going to handle the players who go overboard?

"We have protected these guys so well with oversized equipment … they're not afraid of the puck. That is part of the culture, the equipment … you get young players out there and they're reckless."

With files from the Canadian Press